Agatha Lee, resident Singaporean, sustainability blogger and designer extraordinaire, takes us on a walking tour through Singapore’s Bugis district, sharing some local history, shopping tips and personal favorites along the way.

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EXPLORING BUGIS | AGATHA LEE

Looking at Bugis today, it is hard to imagine what it was like during its notorious days of flamboyant transvestite shows and sleazy drinking holes. Major urban redevelopment of the area in the 1980s gave it a modern-day glean, with shopping malls now lined along the main road.

As soon as you exit the train station, you might be forgiven for thinking that Bugis is just another fast fashion haven – but nestled in this bustling neighbourhood you will find a treasure trove of sustainable options, ranging from vintage to locally designed.

We’ll start our walk from from the edge of Bugis, and make our way finally to Singapore’s Central Business District.

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FROM THE EDGE OF BUGIS TO THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT
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mall (1) SHOP   restaurant EAT / DRINK   villa VISIT

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STOP 1: JALAN BESAR

On the edge of the Bugis District, a cluster of shophouses exude an old world charm through their unique architectural styles. And at 129 Jalan Besar, you’ll find that this continues even after you step through its doorways. ✨
Onlewo

1/F, 129 JALAN BESAR

Opening hours: Tues – Sat, 10am – 6pm

Nearest train station: Jalan Besar

Onlewo is locally inspired, locally designed and locally made. It offers a range of one-of-a-kind upholstery materials, textiles and furniture, with a focus on heritage and culture in South East Asia. The store features traditional artisanal techniques such as Shibori, Ikat and Peranakan, and is also a meeting place for creatives to share and contribute ideas to Singapore’s growing art and design scene. So you might just find yourself taking part in one of their meet-ups! 🙋🏻

Dark Horse Vintage

2/F, 129 JALAN BESAR

Opening hours: Tues – Sat, 10am – 6pm

Nearest train station: Jalan Besar

Walking up the stairs to the second floor of this old-world shophouse, a carefully curated offering of authentic vintage clothing awaits you at Dark Horse Vintage. You definitely won’t find mass produced fashion items here, for the garments range from unique 1950s traditional Chinese “cheong sam”, to handmade dresses from the 1970s. If you need some vintage tips, owner and vintage expert, Jasmine Chee is always on hand to guide you 👍🏼

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STOP 2: HAJI LANE

Just a 15 minute stroll from Jalan Besar is Haji Lane, a narrow road that houses beautiful indie shops and brands. Haji Lane is located in the heart of Kampong Glam, an area where Malay royalty once resided, and where shops sold textiles, perfumes and rattan furniture. It’s also home to the Malay Heritage Museum, and to one of Singapore’s most important mosques, Masjid Sultan. 🕌
Zhai Eco Collection

82 HAJI LANE

Opening hours: Daily, 11am – 8pm

Nearest train station: Bugis

At one end of Haji Lane, you’ll find a shop that offers fashion with a conscience: Zhai Eco is Singapore’s premier ladies fashion boutique focusing exclusively on organic and vegan apparel and accessories, using all natural fibres such as bamboo and linen. Better still, the store offers classic designs and colours that promise to never go out of style. And if you’re really lucky, you’ll be able to spot their adopted street cat who sits outside guarding the store! 😺

Touch the Toes

4A HAJI LANE (2nd floor)

Opening hours: Daily, 12pm – 8pm

Nearest train station: Bugis

If you are looking for eco-friendly yoga wear then your next stop should be Touch the Toes. This store carries a full range of apparel and hard goods – from organic cotton yoga socks, to yoga blocks made from recycled EVA foam. If you’re also keen on getting your yoga fix while shopping, the store also plans to host regular yoga sessions soon – so keep a look out for them on their calendar of events. 🙏🏼

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STOP 3: WATERLOO STREET

Ten minutes away from Haji Lane is Waterloo Street, which is the real heart of Bugis. Here you will find landmark places of worship that reflect the Singapore’s true diversity of people – Kwan Im Thong Hood Cho Temple (a traditional Chinese temple), Maghain Aboth Synagogue, and Sri Krishnan Temple (a Hindu temple) – as well as some beautifully preserved colonial buildings. ⛩
New2U Thrift Store

96 WATERLOO STREET

Opening hours: Monday to Friday, last Sunday of the month, 10.30am to 2.30pm

Nearest train station: Bugis or Bras Brasah

Bugis is home to many fast fashion retail outlets, but at 96 Waterloo Street the thrift store New2U is a real treat for the second-hand clothes lover. Located on the first floor of the Singapore Council of Women’s Organisations (SCWO), it’s a volunteer run store that sells pre-loved clothes, shoes, jewellery, books, and even toys. All the items are neatly arranged according to size and even type to make your thrift store experience as enjoyable as possible. All proceeds from the sales of the items are donated to the initiatives under SCWO. 👗

Crossings Cafe

55 WATERLOO STREET

Opening hours: Mon – Fri: 8 AM – 10 PM,  Sat – Sun: 10 AM – 10 PM

Nearest train station: Bugis or Bras Brasah

If you are feeling slightly peckish or need a coffee break from all that wandering, drop by Crossings Cafe, which serves both Asian and Western meals at truly affordable prices. As a social enterprise, the cafe also provides employment opportunities, personal development and dignity for the disadvantaged; it currently takes in interns and graduates from Assumption Pathway School, a Catholic vocational institute, that helps youth who might otherwise have slipped through the cracks.

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STOP 4: THE NATIONAL DESIGN CENTER

Just behind Waterloo Street is a 120 year old building that has a rich history: first as the former St. Anthony’s Convent, followed by being the home of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, and next, until 2009, the Chinese Opera Institute. Today it is known as the National Design Centre, a forward-thinking establishment with a mission to be a design hub that assists businesses in driving innovation and productivity. There are two stores worth checking out housed within the NDC: Kapok Singapore and Keepers Singapore. ⚡️
Kapok Singapore

NATIONAL DESIGN CENTER, #01-05, 111 MIDDLE ROAD

Opening hours: Daily, 11am – 9pm

Nearest train station: Bugis or Bras Brasah

Located in the main block of the National Design Centre, Kapok Singapore curates independent and creative designs from South East Asia and beyond. Expect to find lifestyle goods including upcycled bags, ethically made clothing and eco-friendly activewear in this super eclectic store. Sustainable brands include Shuren Projects, Freitag, Rum and Matter, and there’s even an in-house cafe if you need to take a coffee break! ☕️

Keepers Singapore

NATIONAL DESIGN CENTER,  #02-03, 111 MIDDLE ROAD

Opening hours: Daily, 12pm – 7pm

Nearest train station: Bugis or Bras Brasah

Just behind the main block of the National Design Centre, and up a flight of stairs, is Keepers Singapore – an initiative that highlights the creative works of local designers and artists across many disciplines including fashion, food and home decor. There’S definitely something for everyone here, with products ranging from preserves with a Singaporean twist, to locally designed scarves that tell the story of Singapore. If you are lucky, you might have a chance to take part in the activities that showcase the designers, or even catch the artist-in-residence at work. 🎨 

Peranakan Museum

39 ARMENIAN ST

Opening hours: Daily, 10am – 7pm, Fridays, 10am – 9pm.

Nearest train station: City Hall

Last but not least – if you have a little extra time, take a 10 minute stroll down to the Peranakan Museum to find more about Singapore’s rich cultural history. The city has always been an attraction for immigrants, dating back as early as the 15th century when the Chinese sought out greener pastures in this region. Descendants of the settlers from this time period are called Peranakan, and while they still retained some of their traditions, they also adopted some of the local Malay customs. One aspect where you can really see this is in their clothing, which was an adaptation of their local traditional attire, while also incorporating designs from China. Step up your fashion history game by visiting the Peranakan Museum – the best place to learn about the various costumes in Peranakan culture, how they have changed over the past century, and how they’ve also been preserved. 👘

Have some cool local tips to share? Send them our way!
Email us or leave a note in the comments and we’ll get back to you ASAP 💌

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